Plan Ahead for Bad PR: How to Handle Negative Press
Reputation management has always been a concern for brands. But with issues being magnified under the lens of social media, online reviews and the 24 hour news cycle, it should be a top priority in 2017 and beyond.
This is essential for developers who frequently contend with bugs, glitches and security vulnerabilities in their apps. Flexera’s Vulnerability Review 2016 found a grand total of 16,081 vulnerabilities in 2,484 applications that year - a 39 per cent increase from 2011.
The rapid rate in which information spreads can quickly send your brand equity plummeting into a downward spiral. While you hope that you never have to deal with a PR crisis, it’s definitely something to plan for.
If bugs happen to get through, you’re better off having a plan for how to respond rather than scrambling at the last minute. Here are the fundamentals of planning ahead for bad PR and how to effectively handle negative press.
Identify Potential Crisis Scenarios
The first step is to create a list of potential scenarios that could occur. Here are a few examples:
A bug disrupts the core functions of your app rendering it unusable
A cyber attack, such as a code injection or cross-site scripting, occurs compromising the security of your app
Customers have their personal financial information stolen during a transaction (e.g. checking out with your app’s shopping cart)
Although unpleasant, determining worst case scenarios like these is necessary for creating a plan of action. If something such as this does eventually occur, you’ll be prepared and can act swiftly without your brand reputation taking a major blow. Therefore, it’s critical to cover all of the angles and be as objective as possible.
The firt step to handle negative press is to create a list of potential scenarios that could occur.
Develop Response Procedures
Now you’ll need to create an outline of how you’re going to react if one of these crises becomes a reality. There are three key areas to address here:
First, you should establish a core message that you’ll deliver to the public. Of course, the specifics will depend upon the context of the situation, but you should have a clear idea of what approach you’ll take.
Next, a team member should be appointed to serve as the primary spokesperson of your company. They will act as the main line of communication with the public, which should ensure a centralised, homogenous message across the board.
Finally, other team members should be given clear guidelines on how they’re expected to respond. In some instances, this might involve instructing them not to respond to inquiries until your primary spokesperson has already addressed the press, media, stakeholders, etc.
However, the “no comment” route can often result in unwanted backlash and make it look like you’ve got something to hide. It just adds fuel to the fire. Another approach is to instruct team members to deliver a brief, more condensed version of the same message your primary spokesman will give and provide them with the right outlets for doing so.
Regardless of the details, you must ensure that everyone within your organisation is on the same page. If a single individual “goes rogue,” it can have disastrous consequences.
Jeff Hunt of Spin Sucks makes a great point regarding the importance of speed when reacting to a crisis. According to Hunt, “We’re operating with a half-second news cycle, and you must act with speed to fill the information vacuum. If you don’t, others will do it for you.”
“Delays make it look like you’re hiding something, but sharing information rapidly gives you a much greater chance of shaping the narrative.”
It’s crucial to have a sense of urgency when handling negative press. We’re living in an era where your reputation can go from stellar to detestable in just a matter of hours. Your best bet for coming out unscathed or at least mitigating the damage is to respond quickly and “shape the narrative.”
You should be prepared to the point that you’re ready to roll out an emergency plan right away, which leads us to our next point.
Select Channels for Addressing the Public
In the past, brands were often limited to just a few outlets for engaging the public. This was typically print, radio and TV. Now, there are a plethora of digital channels available that are perfect for communication. Some of which include a press release, your blog and social media.
Your objective is to decide which channel or combination of channels is the most effective for communicating with the public. It really just depends on which source or sources enable you to reach the largest percentage of your audience, customers and stakeholders most efficiently.
For example, you may want to use Facebook or Twitter if you’ve got a sizable built-in social following. Or, if your blog has thousands of readers, this might be the better option.
Regardless of the path you take, be sure that you’re able to get the word out to the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time possible. Visibility is paramount.
Whether the issue is major or minor, it’s important to take full responsibility and “own it.” Generally speaking, you’re far better off acknowledging a mistake and embracing it than trying to deny it or hide from it.
What’s even worse is arguing with the public and openly lying about the situation. This is only going to intensify the situation and bring more wrath upon your brand.
Most people understand that mistakes happen, and you’re obviously not the first brand to slip up. More importantly, most are willing to forgive. The 21st Century has witnessed a long list of PR disasters, and fessing up to a blunder allows you to work through it quicker and ultimately right the ship.
Make it a point to implement this type of mentality when addressing the public, and you should be in fairly good shape.
One good thing about the 24 hour news cycle is that people have a fairly short-term memory. Many issues will quickly lose steam and fade to the background when the next snafu inevitably arises.
If you had to summarise what the public is looking for from a brand who’s apologising for committing a major gaffe in one word, it would be authenticity. They want to know that you’re genuine in your apology and not merely saying all of the right things just in order to save face.
So how do you come across as authentic?
For starters, you may want to choose someone other than a conventional authority figure to deliver the message. An article from The Federalist examines the collective distrust that most millennials have for authority figures these days. They point out that younger generations aren’t all that receptive to traditional company leaders and may be skeptical of them.
Instead of having your CEO deliver the message, you may want to opt for an expert, such as your head developer, instead. Whoever is most knowledgeable of the incident and understands the underpinnings of went wrong is a good choice.
This individual should also strive to achieve transparency when discussing the issue. It’s critical that they remain truthful and supply whatever information they can to fully explain the situation.
Keep in mind that most information can be unearthed with enough digging, so hiding unsavoury secrets is never a good idea. However, being upfront can negate much of the backlash and minimise any long-term damage to your brand.
Work Towards a Resolution
Last but not least, you must take steps to resolve the problem and get things back on track. At this point, you should have reacted, embraced the mistake and apologised. Now it’s time to fix it and regain any trust that was lost.
For every potential crisis scenario, there should be an effective game plan for remedying the situation. In the event of a security flaw, it should be immediately addressed and steps taken to correct it. You may also want to use crowdsourced testing to find other critical risks before they become major problems.
Be sure that you’re communicating this with the public every step of the way. Keep them in the loop in terms of what you’re doing as this should quell their concerns and restore their faith in your brand.
No matter how grave the situation, you can usually repair damaged trust as long as you come up with a viable solution.
A Formula for Handling Negative Press
Bad PR is something brands take drastic measures to avoid. There’s even an entire branch of marketing devoted to reputation management. It’s a massive industry.
Nonetheless, the odds are significant that you’ll encounter a PR crisis at some point. With Trustwave reporting a median number of 6.5 vulnerabilities in mobile apps, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. It’s really not a matter of if, but when.
Although you can never fully predict the exact predicament, you can prepare in advance for some likely scenarios. By following the formula outlined here, you can react quickly and effectively. This way you can prevent small-scale issues from escalating into much larger ones and maintain strong brand equity.
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